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Mountain West states’ rates of incarceration and supervision vary drastically

A ground-level view of a row of prison cells.
Thomas Hawk
Creative Commons
In 2021, more than 230,000 Americans on probation or parole were put behind bars for violations, like simply not paying fees.

A new report reveals the full picture of correctional control across the United States, including incarceration, probation and parole. Rates of incarceration and supervision vary widely across the Mountain West.

There are nearly 5.5 million people under all of the nation’s "mass punishment" systems, according to the report “Punishment Beyond Prisons 2023” by the Prison Policy Initiative, a nonprofit group that advocates for criminal justice reform. That means roughly 1,600 Americans for every 100,000 are under some form of correctional control.

In Idaho, nearly 2,500 people per 100,000 are under correctional control, which is the third-highest rate among the 50 states and Washington, D.C. Georgia ranks first (4,054 per 100,000) and Arkansas is second (2,950 per 100,000).

Other Mountain West states with mass punishment rates above the national average are 11th-ranked Colorado (1,910 per 100,000) and 15th-ranked Wyoming (1,731 per 100,000). Levels in 22nd-ranked Montana mirror the national mark. Meanwhile, some of the lowest rates in the country are in 40th-ranked New Mexico (1,171 per 100,000), 45th-ranked Nevada (1,044 per 100,000) and 48th-ranked Utah (782 per 100,000).

Nationwide, those on probation make up the largest share of the population under correctional control at 2.9 million people. And they are often poor and not set up to succeed, said report author Leah Wang, a research analyst at the Prison Policy Initiative.

“These are folks that every day have to comply with at least a dozen rules and they're often paying monthly fees, and it's this shadow that looms over their life all the time,” Wang said.

Wang said that fuels mass incarceration. In 2021, more than 230,000 Americans on probation or parole were put behind bars for violations, like simply not paying fees.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Kaleb is an award-winning journalist and KUNR’s Mountain West News Bureau reporter. His reporting covers issues related to the environment, wildlife and water in Nevada and the region.
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